Somehow, between our online coverage of all things lupulous (that means hops-related) in Orange County and our continuing fascination with the craft beer renaissance in Baja California, we skipped over San Diego, where the California craft beer revolution started and is in fullest swing. That's a shame, because there are dozens–literally dozens–of breweries, most just a short drive out of San Clemente, making great beer.
Alesmith Brewing Company is one of the bright lights of the beer scene down there, tucked away in an industrial park so close to MCAS Miramar you can practically wave at Maverick and Goose. They make a lot of great beers, including a good West Coast IPA, but they're best known for their outstanding stout, called Speedway.
Stouts tend to be heavy and thick, and Speedway is no exception. If you find it on tap, it'll probably be served on nitro, which turns the thick, ice cream float-y head into a thick layer of beer mousse. Because of the coffee in the beer, the already dark stout color is pitch black; if you hold a glass of it up to the light, it looks like ink. The taste, though, is surprisingly light for a 12% ABV beer (did we mention those 750 mL bottles are not single servings?), and the jolt of coffee up front primes your palate perfectly for those roasty, malty, bread-in-a-glass flavors that are the reason you drink stout in the first place. It's not an exaggeration to say that Speedway has inspired or influenced most of the coffee stouts on the market today.
Regular Speedway Stout is pretty much a coffee bomb all by itself, but the people at Speedway must love Little Saigon, because one of their Reserve Society releases this year is Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout. They dripped coffee through a phin, the metal filter that 95 percent of Little Saigon restaurants can no longer be bothered to use, and then brewed it into the beer. The result is astounding; cà phê sữa đá is the staff of life as it is, and then it's also beer.
Of course, Alesmith would be lynched in the Vietnamese-language media in Little Saigon for daring to put the flag of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on their bottle, but we'll leave the denunciations to Việt Báo and Người Việt while we drink every single bottle we can get our hands on.
Speedway is a periodic release; when it comes out, most of the craft beer stores on our Orange County Beer Trail map will have a case or two; the Vietnamese Coffee Speedway was a one-time release, though a few bottles are still knocking illicitly around auction sites for absurdly inflated prices.
Alesmith's tasting room is located at 9368 Cabot Dr., San Diego; 858-549-9888; alesmith.com.